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Bipolar Disorder
Student Health Information Page compiled by: Shelbi Ball

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar Disorder is a mental illness that is characterized by unusual changes in mood, energy and one’s ability to think clearly. Persons with this illness experience dramatic shifts from high (manic) to low (depressive) moods.

What are the symptoms of Bipolar Disorder?

Symptoms of Mania: feeling high or overly happy for an extended period of time; irritability; talking fast; racing thoughts; restlessness; abnormally high self-esteem; engaging in risky behaviors; sleeping less or not feeling tired; easily distracted

Symptoms of Depression: feeling sad or hopeless for an extended period of time; loss of interest in activities; irritability; changes in eating and sleeping habits; attempting or thinking of attempting suicide; inability to concentrate

A person with bipolar disorder will cycle through mania symptoms and depression symptoms. The length and severity of the cycles can vary. Hypomania can also be apart of the cycle, which is a less extreme variation of mania.

For half of cases, the symptoms appear before the age of 25. It is most commonly diagnosed in late teens or early adults. It is possible to develop symptoms in childhood or late adulthood, as well.

What are the causes?

There is not one specific cause for bipolar disorder. Studies have shown that it does aggregate in families so genetic factors may heighten risk of disease. You are more likely to have bipolar disorder if a family member has had it. However, the disease is not only genetic. Stressful events can trigger a bipolar episode. Drug abuse has also been shown to trigger the onset of bipolar disorder.

How is bipolar disorder diagnosed?

Doctors use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) to diagnose bipolar disorder. There are four types of bipolar disorder:
  1. Bipolar I Disorder - diagnosed in people who have experienced one or more episode of mania. Usually, depressive episodes occur in the person, but they are not necessary for diagnosis.
  2. Bipolar II Disorder - diagnosed in people who have depressive and hypomanic episodes, but do not have regular manic episodes.
  3. Bipolar Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (BP-NOS) - diagnosed in people who do not fit the criteria for bipolar I or II, but still have periods of abnormal mood changes.
  4. Cyclothymic Disorder, or Clyclothymia - this is a mild form of bipolar disorder. This is characterized by hypomania and mild depression cycles.

What are the treatments?

Bipolar disorder is not curable. It is a life-long illness and a person who is diagnosed will have a long-term treatment plan. An effective treatment plan uses both medications and psychotherapy.

What are the types of medications used?

  • Mood stabilizers: usually the first medication choice prescribed by doctors. Many people with bipolar disorder stay on this medication for the length of their illness. These medications work to treat both manic and depressive episodes.
  • Atypical antipsychotics: these medications are effective in treating manic episodes. Most patients on these medications are also taking anti-depressants to treat depressive episodes.
  • Antidepressants: these medications are used to treat the depressive cycles. These are commonly used for people who do not have severe manic cycles.

What are the common types of psychotherapy used?

  1. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): this therapy focuses on helping patients change risky and harmful behaviors.
  2. Family-focused therapy: this therapy involves family members and helps to improve communication and understanding.
  3. Interpersonal and social rhythm therapy: this therapy helps patients form routines and sleep schedules. This type of therapy can help prevent or lessen the severity of manic cycles.
  4. Psychoeducation: this teaches the patient about their illness and treatment. This therapy can help patients learn how to recognize mood swings and get them under control.

There are other psychotherapy treatment used for bipolar disorder, but these are the most common forms.

Living with Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a long-term illness that can affect daily activities, such as work and school performance. It is important to find proper treatment and stick to the proper treatment. Patients need to be in contact with medical professionals and know the signs and symptoms of their mood changes

Resources and Support

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA)
730 N. Franklin Street, Suite 501
Chicago, Illinois 60654-7225
Toll-free: (800) 826-3632

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) - National
3802 N. Fairfax Dr., Suite 100
Arlington, VA 22203
Main: (703) 524-7600
Information Helpline: (800) 950-NAMI (6264)

NAMI Illinois
218 West Lawrence Ave.
Springfield, IL 62704
Phone: (800) 346-4572
Email: namiil@sbcglobal.net